Relational Processes in Ayahuasca Groups of Palestinians and Israelis

This qualitative interview study (n=31) examined whether ayahuasca group rituals can promote reconciliation between Arab Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, and identified relational processes that can potentially contribute to peacebuilding. Group members felt connected either through a sense of shared humanity based on universal similarities, through the recognition of their intercultural differences, or through conflict-related revelations associated with collective pain and trauma.

Abstract

Introduction: Psychedelics are used in many group contexts. However, most phenomenological research on psychedelics is focused on personal experiences. This paper presents a phenomenological investigation centered on intersubjective and intercultural relational processes, exploring how an intercultural context affects both the group and individual process.

Methods: Through 31 in-depth interviews, ceremonies in which Palestinians and Israelis drink ayahuasca together have been investigated. The overarching question guiding this inquiry was how psychedelics might contribute to processes of peacebuilding, and in particular how an intercultural context, embedded in a protracted conflict, would affect the group’s psychedelic process in a relational sense. Analysis of the interviews was based on grounded theory.

Results: Three relational themes about multilocal participatory events which occurred during ayahuasca rituals have emerged from the interviews: 1) Unity-Based Connection – collective events in which a feeling of unity and ‘oneness’ is experienced, whereby participants related to each other based upon a sense of shared humanity, and other social identities seemed to dissolve (such as national and religious identities). 2) Recognition and Difference-Based Connection – events where a strong connection was made to the other culture. These events occurred through the expression of the other culture or religion through music or prayers, which resulted in feelings of awe and reverence 3) Conflict-related revelations – events where participants revisited personal or historical traumatic elements related to the conflict, usually through visions. These events were triggered by the presence of ‘the Other,’ and there was a political undertone in those personal visions.

Discussion: This inquiry has revealed that psychedelic ceremonies have the potential to contribute to peacebuilding. This can happen not just by ‘dissolution of identities,’ but also by providing a space in which shared spiritual experiences can emerge from intercultural and interfaith exchanges. Furthermore, in many cases, personal revelations were related to the larger political reality and the history of the conflict. Such processes can elucidate the relationship between personal psychological mental states and the larger sociopolitical context.”

Authors: Leor Roseman, Yiftach Ron, Antwan Saca, Natalie Ginsberg, Lisa Luan, Nadeem Karkabi, Rick Doblin & Robin Carhart-Harris

Notes

A write-up of this study was also done for Psychedelic Spotlight.

It’s not uncommon for someone to feel connected to the whole world whilst using psychedelics. Unitive experiences or unitive consciousness are part of the concepts that mysticism scales use when investigating the intensity of a psychedelic experience. So, can psychedelics help us connect with those that we oppose?

This qualitative interview study with 31 participants examined whether ayahuasca group rituals can promote reconciliation between Arab Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, and identified relational processes that can potentially contribute to peacebuilding.

The themes that were identified

  • Group members felt connected either through a sense of shared humanity based on universal similarities
  • Through the recognition of their intercultural differences
  • Or through conflict-related revelations associated with collective pain and trauma

The first theme was most pronounced and enabled participants to connect beyond their individual identities. The communitas experienced by the participants extended beyond the acute psychedelic experience and led to a group or tribe identity that could supersede their different identities.

The current study was only done at a small scale and was only observational (i.e. the goal wasn’t to reconcile differences). The groups also were mostly hosted and attended by Jewish Israelis with Arab Palestinians being the minority participants. Further work could explore how, and even if, psychedelics can help (groups of) people find common ground.

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